January 21, 2011, 4:43 PM

Specialty pharmacy implements video chat

ITSRx.com pharmacists use video to consult one on one with patients.

Lead Photo

Online pharmacy ITSRx.com dove into online customer service in a big way when it implemented both text-based live chat and a webcam-based video chat program from vendor Netop in September. ITSRx.com says its intention was to offer another communication channel to customers, but considers saving 25% in customer service costs a happy side benefit.

ITSRx is a specialty pharmacy that dispenses drugs for serious and chronic diseases like cancer, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis, and many of the drugs have to be injected. Customers new to the drugs often have concerns about injections, and the video chat service gives customers the option of scheduling one-on-one private consultations via webcam with ITSRx pharmacists.

A customer, for example, can show the pharmacist how he is injecting the needle to see if he is doing it right, or talk with the pharmacist about drug interactions or side effects. “Customers can be 1500 miles away from the pharmacist but video chat brings them together like they are in person,” says Brian Smith, director of information technology at ITSRx. ITSRx dispenses drugs to patients in 40 states.

Smith says video chat is not something that happens every day just yet, but expects it will catch on. Currently, two ITSRx pharmacists respond to video chat requests as a part of their regular job duties. Smith says being able to video chat privately from a home computer also provides customers a level of privacy that they might not have in a retail pharmacy setting.

Netop hosts the video and text chat sessions online in a secured environment through its Live Guide program, says Toke Tangkjaer, director of sales at Netop. Encryption security is important, Tangkjaer says, to keep the service compliant with federal HIPAA rules concerning patient privacy. Live Guide is delivered online as a software-as-a-service product, and Netop has responsibility for keeping the data secure.

ITSRx also implemented text-based live chat customer service at the same time it implemented video chat. Previously, the pharmacy handled customer service requests via e-mail, phone, mail or fax. Smith says call volume dropped in favor of chat, although he declined to quantify by how much, while web site conversions increased 20% after ITSRx starting chatting. Two customer service agents handle text chat requests during normal business hours Monday through Friday.

Smith says about 70% of chats come from existing customers and the remainder from potential customers. Returning customers tend to use chat to get order-related questions answered quickly, such as scheduling delivery times and refill requests. With only two agents handling text requests, agents often find themselves chatting with customers they recognize, which Smith says helps the pharmacy build relationships with regular customers.

Smith estimates ITSRx is saving 25% in customer service-related operational costs because phone bills have gone down. He adds that the speed of agents’ interactions with customers is faster, which frees them up to handle other tasks.

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